Cover Story: The sky's the limit!

There are many routes to a satisfying and lasting IT career. Sue Bushell quizzed three IT leaders about their travels to the top and their tips for other IT professionals aspiring to similar positionsRichard Chaplin: Head of Application Services, EDS (at Commonwealth Bank)After almost 20 years in IT with the Commonwealth Bank, Richard Chaplin has recently joined EDS to head the 600-strong application services team supporting the EDS Commonwealth Bank account. He says the most challenging part of the role is motivating a large and diverse group of people and making them glad to come to work each day.

Chaplin was following a traditional banking career with the Commonwealth until he was recruited to the IT department almost 20 years ago. But while taking that up proved the smartest move he's ever made, it was initially a blessing very much in disguise.

"I must admit I struggled in my early days in IT -- my peers seemed to be handling it a lot easier than I was -- but at the end of the day I found IT was certainly my niche in life," he says.

His second break came when he was made head of the Commonwealth Bank's New York IT shop, a position that allowed him to apply not only technology but business and relationship skills and work with some very senior people to understand the business's perspective on IT. All up, it was such an outstanding success that one of his career aspirations remains to build an applications development shop from the ground up in either North America or Europe.

"Taking up that opportunity to go overseas allowed me to travel a fair bit. When I came back I was responsible for the bank's international systems which also gave me an opportunity to travel and to meet different people. It opened my eyes to what was happening in the world, what was happening to technology globally, what was happening in business globally. If I hadn't taken that opportunity I may have just stayed working here in Sydney on domestic systems and never had the opportunity to see what happens elsewhere in the world," he said.

Plenty of opportunities for training have helped his career significantly along the way. He has been involved in an executive development program and completed an MBA in 1995. Both have been valuable, Chaplin says, particularly since he has spent the last couple of years in positions where it has proved important to understand different ways of leading people and of developing strategies.

"I don't think it's good enough these days to learn from experience. You need to have your mind opened to the latest and differing leadership and management thought. I think to rely on on-the-job training and experience is a very parochial approach to development."

Chaplin says he's come "pretty darned close" to making some big mistakes, but has always worked excessively hard to resolve issues and identify those around him who can help him dig himself out of a hole. His other response to problems is to take time out. "I go home, I sit back and think about all the things that I could be doing to get out of the mess, and I don't ignore it. I need to clear my head and to think it through."

Don't waste time, or work on things that are not important, he advises. Don't expect too much of yourself. Set goals that are practical and achievable, even while setting the bar high. And don't plan your career too far ahead. Be prepared to change and take unforeseen opportunities and whatever you do, never burn your bridges.

Continue to challenge the status quo, look for creative ways of doing things, be open to different points of view and remain positive, even in the face of adversity. Above all have a passion for your work and make sure you can always see the "big picture".

For the future Chaplin believes ITÊoutsourcingÊwillÊescalateÊas businessesÊfocusÊonÊtheirÊcore competencies, leading to considerable growth for outsourcing companies. Outsourcers will increasingly focus on providing integrated enterprise-wide, cross-functional solutions and there will be continuing pressures on applications developers to improve "time to market".

Andrew McPherson: managing partner, technology, Andersen ConsultingAndrew McPherson has responsibility for Andersen's 400-strong technology consulting practice, and like Chaplin, he stumbled into IT virtually by accident.

Only after completing his engineering degree did McPherson realise he didn't really want to become an engineer. Advice from a lecturer led him to what is now Andersen Consulting's graduate recruitment program, and he has been with them for the last 20 years.

McPherson says joining and then staying with Andersen were the smartest career moves he ever made, giving him a career so satisfying he says he wouldn't dream of switching.

It has also allowed him to work in seven countries around the world with a "bunch" of different clients in a range of different industries. For instance half his second year with the organisation was spent in the middle of the Irian Jayan jungle, which was then under martial law.

"ThatÊwasÊfortunateÊforÊme because I got a bit of a taste for travel and from there I went and worked in a range of places up in Asia and in Europe and elsewhere as well. I think I saw there was the opportunity to continue to grow and develop myself. There were new clients I could work with, and I could actually see us making a difference with the clients we had. So there was a constant intellectual challenge and there was the variety of working for different people but not having to change employers."

AtÊAndersenÊevery employee goes through a structured training program, refreshed every year as a compulsory part of career progression.

"One of the good but challenging things in the organisation is that every year you think, I've learnt that, I've mastered it, and every year you find they've raised the bar and say now we want you to do something else. It's an organisation where in 10 years you can move from coming straight out of university to dealing with very senior client management people. And to do that you've got to train people, so it's been great for me from that point of view."

It's an experience that has made him swear by the value of applied experience in terms of learning on the job supported by very specific training.

He advises IT professionals to always try to understand the business problem and to take a lateral approach to problem solving. Be flexible in the ways you think, support other people and try to understand other people's problems. Never, ever go in to a client unprepared. Never, ever try to wing it.

By far the most challenging part of his own job is managing the changing expectations on the part of Andersen's own people. He has seen at least one generational change in the people who are joining the company, and says the new generation has vastly different expectations, different views of their own performance levels, and a different view of job security and personal security.

"In a sense I think they are much more prepared to take a risk and probably much more impatient than we were back then. You have to be a very good sales person in terms of communicating the opportunities that are there and the ways that the job I have can meet what they are demanding."

McPherson has no doubt the consulting market will continue to grow strongly.

"We've been growing at about 20 per cent or higher per year in the 20 years. I think consulting in the IT industry is only going to grow. Organisations are starting to get themselves back to core business and that often means further change and the industry is changing anyway.

"I think there are just more and more opportunities, more and more growth, for both technology people in organisations and consulting firms like ourselves," he said.

Michelle Tredenick: CIO, Lend Lease

Alone of our three leaders, Lend Lease CIO Michelle Tredenick, started her career with a computing degree, joining the applications development area of Suncorp (then the State Government Insurance Office) as a programmer after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Computing Science.

While Tredenick was working her way up, mainly through the systems development group, SGIO was becoming Suncorp then merging with Metway to become Suncorp Metway. Only then did she join Lend Lease, where she has been for the past six months.

Her training over the course of that career has been "pretty opportunistic", she says, involving taking on whatever training the company she was working for had on offer. She's been on business management courses, IT related courses as well as general insurance and banking and financial services courses. She's also spent time at the Australian Graduate School of Management. As a result she thinks both formal and on the job training are important to an IT career.

"I think the key issue is your willingness to continue learning. Certainly you learn a lot on the job, but I learnt by reading and education as well. I think both of them are very important but the key issue is just a willingness to continue learning and to be interested in learning and understanding new things."

Looking back on her career Tredenick identifies two lucky breaks, neither of which seemed so at the time. In 1991 Suncorp began an 18-month project to restructure the entire business. Tredenick volunteered to take part because of her interest in the process of restructuring. She says the move gave her a much broader perspective on the business than she otherwise would have had.

The second came five years later when she was heading up IT for the banking side of Suncorp and was asked to take business and IT ownership of a struggling major project to deliver new banking systems.

"I didn't really want to do it at the time because I'd done quite a few projects and I thought, I really don't want to go and do another big project. But they talked me into it and I did it and I learnt so much and it was a really successful project and I got a lot of satisfaction out of doing it. Afterwards I was offered the job of CIO for Suncorp and achieving on that project was instrumental in getting that next role."

Tredenick says she's never really sat down to plan her career but has always approached it on the basis of being very open to change, taking whatever opportunities are on offer and always trying new things and learning.

"That has really stood me in very good stead," she says.

"I think the best thing you can do is always focus on the bigger picture and get involved and don't just see IT as a means to an end. Really understand where it fits into the picture and really get involved with the rest of the business.

"And don't shut yourself away in the IT group and just worry about the IT area. People still do that, I think."

She says while her father wanted her to be a doctor or lawyer, she's found one of the advantages of the IT industry, despite its demands, is that it is still young and that those who continue to achieve will always progress.

"It's a healthy industry, it's an industry in demand, and I think the other thing I've really liked about it is that if you're in the IT group you get an opportunity to see the whole of the business. You learn a lot and you generally have a very good understanding of what goes on in the whole of the business."

In her view the most challenging part of being a CIO is the need to continually satisfy the business, showing leadership and moving the IT agenda forward while bringing the business along with you and satisfying their needs.

"Being a CIO is very hard because it is about balancing agendas for business, balancing agendas for IT, balancing competing priorities, and I think there will always be a role for a CIO. I think it's a very important role. The business wants somebody that understands what they want to achieve and can translate that for them and then get it to happen."

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